Some of my favourite memories in life are of the moments I have spent alone. The few days I spent in Vientiane, the capital of Laos I hardly spoke to anyone and had a lot of time to reflect on the recent changes in my life. I had breakfast every morning in a little cafe around the corner from my guesthouse. The owner seemed happy to rustle up a plate of scrambled eggs on toast and the tea was wonderfully hot. This was good as breakfast in Laos usually comes with a large stodgy white baguette, reminiscent of the French colonial years. I sat outside on the balcony catching up with my notes and planning my day’s activities. Every evening I watched the sun set along the Mekong River and strolled along the night market.
On my first day in the capital I procured a map from the guest house and decided to take a walk around the city to gain my bearings, much to the chagrin of the owners of the many colourful Tuk Tuk’s along the streets. I was searching for a bookshop called the Book Cafe. Dr Robert Cooper the owner of the bookshop had been helping me with some of my research on Laos and had invited me to come and say hello while I was in town.
On my wonderings around Vientiane I found the Laos National Museum. I love the quiet solitude of museums and art galleries. The building was built in the 1920’s as a French colonial residence and holds a staggering collection of bombies and some wonderful displays of the history of a little known country that is the most heavily bombed country in the world from the U.S.A secret war.
A lovely Tuk Tuk driver showed me around Vientiane, dropping me off at various destinations and trusting that I would return each time without a single Kip in his pocket. The honesty of the people in Laos is so refreshing and it makes the small country such a relaxing destination for the woman who likes to travel alone. The national symbol of Laos is the That Luang temple and although the gold ornate temple has become a very touristy destination, it is one I feel that should not be missed. I was asked to wear a traditional mid-length Laos skirt as I walked around the temple, later I bought the skirt.
Later my Tuk Tuk driver took me to Patuxai, also known as the Arc de Triomphe of Laos. As someone who has been to the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris its Laos cousin is a poor representation. But I enjoyed walking along here as the sun set amidst the stately colonial buildings and watching the monks as they ambled amidst the tourists.
My favourite experience in Vientiane was being invited to the celebrations of a traditional Lao wedding. Tables and chairs had been set up blocking a whole street for the wedding party. A live folk band played the Khene, a bamboo mouth organ while we ate. According to Lao legend the Khene was developed by a woman on a long walk alone while trying to copy the song of the garawek bird. I love this story and felt privileged to be a part of the celebrations.
One of the best things about travelling is discovering food from around the world and I really enjoyed the food in Laos. Sticky rice is the staple food in Laos and eaten with your hands. The most famous meal is called Laap; spicy minced meat on a bed of herbs, traditionally served raw but in many restaurants it is cooked for tourists unfamiliar with the dish. If you are unsure you can order the tofu Laap which is equally delicious. Another fantastic meal recommended to me is fish cooked in banana skin, a strange combination that really worked!